August 21, 2010
Mark Oppenheimer covers the Eido Shimano Roshi story in The New York Times. He begins:
Sooner or later, every traditional faith has to confront sexual impropriety by its spiritual leaders: extramarital sex, or sex with the wrong people (members of the congregation, minors) or, for supposedly celibate clergy, any sex at all.
But there are great differences in how religions handle these transgressions. For Jews and many Protestants, it is the local congregation that decides what sins are too great to countenance, and what kind of discipline is needed. For Roman Catholics, a worldwide hierarchy decides, depending on reports from local representatives. And for Buddhists — well, the answer is not so clear.
The root of the problem, some experts say, is that the teacher/student relationship in Buddhism has no obvious Western analogy. Priests and rabbis know the boundaries, even if some do not always respect them. Doctors, too, have ethical canons they are supposed to honor. A spiritual figure like a priest, an authority figure like a teacher, a therapeutic figure like an analyst — the Buddhist teacher may be all of those, but is not really like any one of them. Even sanghas, or Buddhist communities, that discourage such relationships often have no process for enforcing a ban, and as one Zen society in New York is learning, that can lead to problems.
As to why all this came out now, when rumors had been circulating for years, Oppenheimer writes:
First, this more recent affair occurred in a different news media culture. Clerical impropriety is a hot topic, of course. And on the Internet, where several bloggers were scrutinizing the Aitken papers, the new affair was sure to be mentioned. “The Internet was turning the heat up,” one member said.
Tricycle's editor, James Shaheen, and former Senior Editor Clark Strand are quoted in the article.
This matter has been discussed previously on this blog: a press release from Zen Studies Society on August 19th, a statement from the ZSS Board on July 19th, and our coverage of the changes in the ZSS Ethical Guidelines (hat tip to Smiling Buddha Cabaret) on July 16th.
UPDATE: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 24, 2010
The Beliefs column on Saturday, about Buddhist leaders who addressed a sex scandal, referred incorrectly to a 1990 article by Katy Butler, a journalist, titled “Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America.” Ms. Butler did not describe Richard Baker, the abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center during the 1970s and 1980, as an alcoholic. She was comparing patterns of behavior by his followers to patterns of enabling behavior of relatives of alcoholics.